The owner of TikTok has chosen Oracle over Microsoft as its preferred suitor to buy the popular video-sharing app, according to a source familiar with the deal who was not authorised to speak publicly about it.
Microsoft announced on Sunday that its bid to buy TikTok has been rejected, removing a leading suitor for the Chinese-owned app a week before President Donald Trump promises to follow through with a plan to ban it in the US.
The Trump administration has threatened to ban TikTok by Sept. 20 and ordered ByteDance to sell its US business, claiming national-security risks due to its Chinese ownership. The government worries about user data being funneled to Chinese authorities. TikTok denies it is a national-security risk and is suing to stop the administration from the threatened ban.
TikTok declined to comment on Sunday. Oracle didn’t return a request for comment but has previously declined comment.
Microsoft said in a Sunday statement that TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, “let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft”.
Walmart had planned to partner with Microsoft on the deal. It’s not clear if Walmart was still interested before Microsoft was notified of the rejection on Sunday.
Microsoft said on Sunday it was “confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests”. The company said it “would have made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combating disinformation”.
TikTok, which says it has 100 million US users and about 700 million globally, is known for its fun, goofy videos of dancing, lip-syncing, pranks and jokes. It’s recently become home to more political content such as the comedian Sarah Cooper, who drew a large audience by lip-syncing Trump’s own often-disjointed statements from public appearances.
But the app has also raised concerns because of its Chinese owner, ByteDance. The White House has cracked down on a range of Chinese businesses, including telecom equipment makers Huawei and ZTE and messaging app WeChat, over worries that they would enable Chinese authorities to get US user data. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have also raised concerns about censorship and children’s privacy.
TikTok denies that it has shared user data with the Chinese government or that it would do so if asked. The company says it has not censored videos at the request of Chinese authorities and insists it is not a national-security threat.
TikTok has sued to stop the ban, but not the sale order. The sale situation has been complicated by several factors, including Mr Trump’s repeated demands that the US government should get a “cut” of any deal, a stipulation and role for the president that experts say is unprecedented. In addition, the Chinese government in late August involved itself in the process by unveiling new regulations that restrict exports of technology that appear to include the system TikTok uses to choose which videos to spool up to its users. That means ByteDance would have to obtain a license from China to export any restricted technologies to a foreign company.
The deal had come together rapidly after the administration ramped up its threats against TikTok this summer, despite TikTok’s efforts to put distance between its app and its Chinese ownership. It installed former top Disney executive Kevin Mayer as its American CEO, but he resigned in August after just a few months on the job, saying the “political environment has sharply changed.”
Both Microsoft and Oracle are known more for their business software offerings than for those intended for consumers.
Oracle primarily makes database software. It competes with tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon that provide cloud services as well as business-software specialists like Salesforce.
Some analysts see Oracle’s interest in a consumer business as misguided. Oracle should focus on enterprise-market acquisitions and not invest in a consumer app like TikTok that doesn’t fit with the rest of its business, said Jefferies analyst Brent Thill, who compares the idea to Delta Airlines buying a motorcycle company. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
Mr Thill suggested that TikTok competitors like Facebook and Snapchat should be “cheering on Oracle” as a buyer, because Oracle wouldn’t “add a lot of value to the app”.
Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison is unusual among tech executives for his public support of Mr Trump, hosting a fundraiser for him in February at his Rancho Mirage, California, estate. The company also hired a former top aide to Vice President Mike Pence; its CEO, Safra Catz, also served on Mr Trump’s transition team.
The president said on Aug. 18 that Oracle was “a great company” that “could handle” buying TikTok. He declined to state his preference between Oracle and Microsoft as buyers.